SUSTAINING 21ST CENTURY TEACHERS: RAISING THE BAR

Madam Chairman, Honourable Minister Patrick Faber, Minister of Education, Youth and Sports, Chief Executive Officer, Mr. David Leacock, Chief Education Officer, Mr. Christopher Aird and other officials of the Ministry of Education, Dr Cynthia Thompson Assistant Provost, University of Belize, President of the Belize National Teachers Union, Mr. Luke Palacio and Executive Secretary, Ms. Keisha Young, colleague teachers, colleagues of universities and colleges, distinguished presenters of papers at this Conference, participants, invited guests and long-time Belizean friends who I see in the audience, it is a great privilege to be asked to give the keynote address at this conference. Having retired from the University of the West Indies and public responsibilities, whenever I am invited to give keynote addresses or public Lectures, my assumption is that most likely I will not have another opportunity. I, therefore, approach the Theme ‘Sustaining 21st Century Teachers: Raising the Bar’ possessed of the compulsion to give of the best of what I have learned and from the core of my beliefs.

BACKGROUND

I am particularly proud to see the leadership role being played by Mrs. Cecelia Smith. When Dr Cynthia Thompson was principal of the Teachers College, and I was chairman of the Joint Board, she often sought my opinion on promising teacher-trainees who could become leaders in in the future. Mrs. Smith was one such young teacher that we agreed definitely had the potential. It is always satisfying to see potential transformed into kinetic energy. What I did not anticipate is that she would, in the twilight of my career, invite me to speak to a Theme that poses so many challenges that could get me into so much trouble.

In my view, Belize is one of the most complex societies in the Commonwealth Caribbean. This is not only because Belize is a continental country surrounded by Spanish speaking neighbours with English as its official language. Guyana faces a more complex language situation. Guyana’s nearest neighbours speak French, Portuguese, Dutch, and Spanish.

The diversity and complexity that is Belize reside in the combination of the following:

  1. Geographically, the country is about twice the size of mountainous Jamaica, with mostly flatlands, but has a population just over one-tenth that of the Jamaican population.
  2. The usual settlement patterns are for ethnic groups to live in discrete communities mostly separated from each other by miles of road, with no people living among them.
  3. The discrete communities, marked by ethnicity, speak many different languages daily that continue to honour and maintain cultural practices related to their ancestry. Further, as I listen to the Belizean Creole, I hear much of the Jamaican dialect, replete with all of its bad words. Not only the international ‘f’ and‘s’ words but also the unique ‘r’ word and the distinctive ‘b’ words.
  4. While none of six regions of Belize, and the Cays, is populated exclusively by any single ethnic group some ethnic groups are predominantly settled in particular regions: Creoles in Belize District; Mestizos in Orange Walk, Corozal, Cayo and the Cays; Mennonites in Cayo and Orange Walk; Garifuna in Stann Creek and Toledo; and Mopan and Ketchi Mayans in Toledo; Lebanese in Cayo and Belize City. More recent waves of immigrants from China, India, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala are spread across the country. The six regions also differ by their main economic activities: sugar and cash crops in Corozal and Orange Walk; industry, commerce, and transportation hub in Belize District; Government and eco-tourism in Cayo; bananas and citrus in Stann Creek; marine tourism on the Cays; and bananas and subsistent agriculture in Toledo.
  5. The country is almost evenly divided by Catholics and Protestants and still retains a Denominational system or education.

I make no claim to be an expert on Belize. But my knowledge of Belize, its geography and diverse people, does not come only from books or websites. It also comes from many visits to Belize over the past 35 years and particularly from Teaching Practice Assessments of teachers in the schools in which they are employed. So, I have been not only in Corozal Town, Orange Walk Town, Benque Viejo, San Ignacio, Belmopan, Belize City, Dangriga, and Punta Gorda but also in the rural villages of each district. Head knowledge is complemented by a ‘seat of the pants’ feeling of Belize from being driven in Jeeps with limited shock absorbers, before the days of SUVs, and on many roads that were not paved at the time, including the 100+ unpaved miles from Dangriga to Punta Gorda at that time. Further, in my research on male underachievement, Belize presented a puzzle that took me some time to unravel. That taught me to be cautious in interpreting statistics, especially averages, which often conceal important factors critical to understanding why things are the way they are. My experience as Chairman of the Joint Board left me with a deep respect for Belizean professionals and allowed me to develop a better appreciation of why some things take more time to change than in places with less complexity.

Cautioned by past knowledge and experience, I have decided to approach the Theme from two perspectives by exploring answers to two questions.

  1. What bars ought to be raised for teachers?
  2. What bars should be raised by teachers?

The last time I was engaged with any activities in Belize was in 2007. So I wish to congratulate Mr. Alan Genitty, Dr. Ellajean Gillette, and the team for the production and publication of the Education Statistical Digests of Belize on-line. Also, I wish to thank Mrs. Smith for sending important me documents that are not on-line but important to update my knowledge of recent developments.

Raising the Bar of Academic and Professional Training for Teachers

To seek answers to the first question, let us start with statistics. Over the last 10 years, the school population at the primary level has continued to grow, modestly, so that Belize, unlike several other countries of the Commonwealth Caribbean, does not have a declining school population where more students are leaving the primary and secondary schools than they are entering. Net primary school enrolment is 98.3 which is excellent. The teacher-pupil ratio is 23:1, and is evenly distributed across all regions. This is a very good ratio. The consistency across regions suggests that the Ministry of Education is monitoring compliance very closely.

The modest increases in the primary school enrolment are matched by modest increases in the primary teaching force. The proportion of trained teachers at the primary level increased marginally from 52.1 percent in 2003-2004 to 56.4 percent in 2012-13. When the 56.4 percent trained primary school teachers are broken down: trained teachers with the Primary Certificate with School experience, (Level 2) are 10.8 percent; trained teachers with an Associate degree are 27.9 percent; and teachers with Bachelors and Masters Degrees are 15.6 percent. Roughly speaking, to every trained teacher with Level 2 there are four trained teachers with an Associate degree or higher. Among the 44.6 percent untrained: teachers with Bachelor degrees constitute 2.9 percent; those with Associate Degrees 18.1 percent and those with high school diplomas are 11.7 percent. Untrained teachers with Level 1 and First Class Certificates only constitute 6.5 percent of the total teaching force.

The clear inference from these data is that the academic bar has been raised generally for teachers at the primary school level. The challenge that still exists is to significantly increase professional training. In other words, the challenge is not in raising the bar but in opening the training tap somewhat wider so that the flow of trained teachers coming into the primary school system will reduce the proportion of untrained teachers at a faster rate. Increasing the proportion of trained teachers by 4.0 percent over nine years appears to be more than cautious. However, efforts in the current financial year, through the Certificate programme, indicate that efforts are being made to reduce the proportion of untrained teachers and raise the proportion of trained teachers through this additional in-service training initiative. However, it must be noted that Commonwealth Caribbean countries have already achieved about 80 percent trained primary school teachers.

The bottom line is that Belize has phased out the old Pupil Teacher System: First Teachers, Second Class, and First Class. The challenge is still to continue to bring the proportion of trained teachers to regional levels in a timely manner. However, an account has to be taken of Belizean complexity. Averages mask disparities. The 56.4 percent of trained primary school teachers are not evenly distributed across Belize. It is 53.4 in Belize District; 54.7 percent in Cayo; 75.5 percent in Corozal; 67.8 percent in Orange Walk; 46.6 percent in Stann Creek; and 43.5 percent in Toledo.

At the secondary level net enrolment is 52.4 percent which means that Belize lags behind the region in the proportion of students enrolled in secondary school. The student-teacher ratio is 1:15 which is better than the accepted norm for the secondary level of 1:18. Belize follows the 8 plus 4 structure of basic education. In 2012, 85 percent of those who passed the Primary School Exams transferred to the secondary school.

Over the period 2003-2004 to 2012-2013 the proportion of trained teachers in secondary schools declined from 35.1 percent to 29.5 percent. Over the ten year period, secondary enrolment increased from 14,630 students in 2002-2003 to 19,665 in 2011-2012, that is, by 34.4 percent and an average annual rate of 3.4 percent. Basically, these data suggest that the training of secondary school teachers has not kept pace with the increase in secondary enrolment. Further, in 2012-2013, among secondary school teachers, 34.6 percent had no first degree or professional training, 35.9 percent had first degrees but no professional training. Only 25.5 percent of secondary teachers had at least a first degree and professional training.

However, in 2012, the Ministry of Education, with support from the European Union and executed by a project with the GFA Consulting Group designed, developed and piloted a four-term in-service teaching education programme for secondary school teachers, endorsed by the Belize Board of Teacher Education and the University of Belize. The project offered untrained secondary schools teachers employed full-time in high schools in the Banana Belt, Southern Stann Creek, and Northern Toledo, the opportunity to pursue either a Bachelor of Science in Secondary Education or a Diploma of Education. Utilizing a participatory and interactive consultative approach the project succeeded in enrolling 90 teachers. As a result, at the completion of the project, the Banana Belt region, which had just about 25 percent of its secondary school teachers trained in 2011-2012 now in 2014 will have over 90 percent of its secondary school teachers trained. Just as in the case of the implementation of the pre-service policy at the primary level which raised the bar for the education and training of primary school teachers, the In-Service Secondary Teacher Education Project has piloted the model to raise the bar of education and training of secondary school teachers.

Madam Chairman, please allow me an aside here. One of the things I have always noticed over the years that I tracked CSEC results, is that Belize always punches above its weight. By that, I mean that the output from the Belizean education always is higher than one would expect from its inputs. So I checked again. In 2012, Belize students passed 62 percent of all subject sat, with 31 percent of trained teachers. In 2013, Belize students passed 65 percent of all subjects sat. It will be most interesting to see if improved the levels of training in the future will be matched by improved CSEC results especially by the regions that are upgraded. Also, as would be expected, Belizean students almost always top in the region in their performance in Spanish.

With respect to raising the bar of academic and professional education and training, three observations are pertinent.

  1. First, invariably teachers respond positively to opportunities given to them to raise the bar of their academic and professional preparation. This is not only true of the record of Belizean Teachers but of teachers throughout the Caribbean.
  2. Second, the Ministry of Education, across several administrations, has formulated several policies and projects which appear to be bearing fruit. This includes the pre-service model of training primary school teachers and more recently the In-service Programme of training secondary school teachers. These are worthy of commendation. However, Belize is not pioneering, but following similar policies in the rest of the region, with similar results. Trinidad and Tobago, for example, has long employed with great success the in-service modality to train secondary school teachers. Having piloted the model in one District, it is prudent to move from project to standard programme on an annual basis.
  3. Third, the Ministry of Education, the Junior Colleges and the University of Belize have built up a significant infrastructure of continued in-service training. While this has been used mainly to provide initial teacher training for unqualified persons teaching in schools, it should be re-structured and re-oriented to provide continuous in-service training and coaching support for qualified teachers. In this regard, it important to recognise the significant, and probably learn lessons from the work done by Teachers For a Better Belize (TFABB) and other such groups. The idea that teachers can be formed and equipped for their entire careers through three or four years of initial teacher education is no longer valid in the rapidly changing world of the 21st

So far we have addressed the matter of raising the bar for the academic and professional preparation for teachers. The conclusion is that the bar has been raised with respect to academic and professional qualifications or primary and secondary education. The challenge is to increase the numbers of persons having the opportunity to clear this bar. I am confident that the professionals of the Ministry, the Junior Colleges, the University of Belize and the Teachers Union will work collaboratively together to open the pipes of teacher education to allow faster movement in increasing the proportion of trained teacher at both the primary and secondary levels.

It must be noted, however, that the training of teachers in Technical Vocational education and Early Childhood Education remain challenges that still remain to be addressed.

RAISING THE BAR BY TEACHERS

What bars should be raised by teachers? To me, there are three bars to be raised by teachers.

  1. First is the bar of understanding what it is to be Belizean by each segment of the society.
  2. Second is the bar of understanding of one’s self as a teacher within the Belizean nation.
  3. Third, is the bar of understanding of the mission of teachers to build Belize so that it survives and prospers as a small nation in the changing world of the 21st

I am very aware that almost everybody has their own strong views of what education is and what schooling ought to be about.  To be transparent, here are my views.

Albert Einstein is right. Education is what you have left when you have forgotten all you ever learned in school. It is the ways of thinking, outlooks on life, habits, approach to understanding new things, ways of relating to others and choices of the heart, made without thinking.

Schooling is the mobilization of a people to consolidate progress they have already made and to construct their future as a distinct people or society with the best chance to survive and prosper. In this regard, teaching is always inspired by some vision of future, based on some set of values related to that vision and demand that teachers be exemplars of the vision and the values in order to add virtue, integrity, to the enterprise. This is why, historically, teaching has had such long and strong connections to religion and ideology. The forthright advocacy of the vision and the values have usually come from prophets, the masculine root, and the living out of the values and the virtues are associated with the tradition of the pure-woman, the feminine root.

Schools and colleges, as institutions, mobilize people across generations to embrace and share some vision of their common destiny, to uphold the values that will make the vision become reality and to be so convinced by the virtues manifested in their teachers. This never takes place in a vacuum. It takes place in the real world where there are differences in power, resources, status, beliefs and routine relations, and culture. These differences are not only among their people but also in relation to other peoples, some of whom may be kindly disposed and others who are not. It is therefore imperative for teachers to have a more than a casual understanding of their society, of themselves in that society, present geopolitics, as well as trends of the future.

Neither the world nor the Belizean society is static! Both are changing dynamically! Fareed Zakary captures the change in geopolitics in the title of his book: “The Decline of the West and the Rise of the Rest.” While the US remains the superpower in the world, on each continent there are rising regional powers: China and India in Asia; Brazil and Mexico in the Americas; Russia and Germany in Europe; Nigeria and South Africa in Africa; and Australia in the Pacific. These regional powers also have global ambitions. The implications are pervasive: affecting geopolitics; global economics; interactions between belief systems; as well as tensions between civilizations.

Belize is caught between its history related to English colonial heritage, shared with the Commonwealth Caribbean, and its geography which locks it in with its Spanish speaking neighbours of Central America. It is faced with demographic shifts from a Creole majority to a Mestizos majority. Daily, like almost most Caribbean and Central American countries, Belize is confronted by murders that shock common sense and is challenged, as all small states are, at not being able to direct its destiny totally on its own terms.

Teachers are educating children and youths in schools, colleges, and universities. These institutions are located in the nation Belize which is part of the global societies of nations. Regardless of the level of the education system at which they teach, what teachers do consciously or unconsciously, have meaning and implications for the future of Belize. This requires that teachers raise the bar in the three areas indicated.

Raising the Bar of Understanding of what it is to be Belizean,

My intention here is to use my very imperfect and limited knowledge of Belize, as an outsider, to provoke thinking among you as insiders about the different meanings of being Belizean within Belizean ethnic diversity. Belizean ethnic diversity and complexity translates on a daily basis into lives lived with multiplicities of collective memories, meanings, mindsets and motivations; ritual and routines; resentments and rivalries; alliances and alienations; hurts and hurdles; disappointments and distrusts; fears and anxieties; hopes and aspirations; and dreams and visions. Teachers more than any other vocation, or occupations, must be able to empathize with all of these, in order to contribute to the continued construction of Belizean society and people.

As an outsider I see the ingredients of the Belize melting pot to consist of Mayan survival; Spanish conquest; British colonisation; Caribbean resistance; marginal Europeans seeking to perverse their distinctive culture; peoples from different continents seeking a better life economically; and more recently Central Americans moving north to Mexico and the United States through the Belizean gateway. Allow me to elaborate briefly on each.

Mayan Belizeans can claim direct connection to Belizean antiquity, dating from around 2500 BCE. The Mayan civilization and empire rivalled the ancient civilizations of North Africa, Mesopotamia, China, and India. Some Mopan and Ketchi Mayans of southern Belize may, very possibly, with little genetic dilution be able to trace these direct connections to their antiquity. When harangued by some modern utopian vision of society, these Mayans may think, if not say, ‘been there, done that’ and then focus their energies on the needs of family and neighbours.

The lowlands of Belize were once at the centre of Mayan civilization and empire when they flourished through favorable climate, the Mayan genius of organisation and innovation, and had a population of about one million. In its classical period, Mayan civilization and empire reached great heights in food production, in the scribal art, in astronomy, in mathematics, in architecture and in the development of the Mayan calendar. Mayan empire crumbled by latest 1000 CE, that is, about 500 hundred years before the Spanish arrived. Climate change brought prolonged drought resulting in reduced food production which contributed to division, disease, warfare and migration of many to the highlands of Guatemala and Mexico. But some stayed, although, the great structures of their civilization remain as ruins, hidden by the rainforests that have since returned as climate underwent yet another major change.

While there is much to glory in from this Mayan history, there is also great disappointment. Neither civilization nor empire was sustained. The clear lesson to be learned is that human progress is not linear. It cannot be taken for granted. It has no guarantees.

Paradoxically, Mestizos Belizeans are the products of conflicts and cohabitation between the Spanish conquistadors and Mayans resisting conquest. The hierarchical, but decentralized, structure of the Mayan empire did not allow the Spanish to conquer Mayan territory in the same way they did the Aztecs in Mexico, the Incas in South America and the Tainos in the Caribbean. Mayan resistance was persistent and prolonged, especially in the Yucatan. But war and making love are not incompatible. Mestizos are evidence of this fact. Mixed in ethnicity and caught in the middle of conflict between Mayan resentment and the need of the Spanish to bolster their numbers, Mestizos mostly chose alliance with the Spanish. However, that alliance resulted in some Mestizos fleeing Yucatan, as caste conflicts intensified into the famous Caste War which started in 1847. They found space and sanctuary in Corozal and Orange Walk. The same can be said of Mestizos of Guatemala fleeing to western and southern Belize as a result of less dramatic and famous conflicts. In fleeing highlands of Guatemala and Yucatan to the lowlands of Belize Mestizos were reversing the paths of their Mayan antecedents, but in more favourable environmental and less crowded times.

Creole Belizeans are products of British colonization. Over the course of more than 600 years the rainforests had returned sufficient to produce an abundance of hardwoods, including the prized mahogany. Buccaneers, making use of the Cays to rob Spanish bounty, and English and Scottish loggers exploiting the natural resources of the renewed forests, brought the British Empire and the English Language to Belizean shores in the late 17th century. Labour from Jamaica to help with logging brought Africans, slavery and the Jamaican dialect to Belizean society. Belize City became the administrative, commercial and transportation centre of the colony. This nexus is the root of the Creole segment in the Belize District and the Anglicizing process that made and sustained Belize as a British colony.

Garifuna Belizeans introduced a different combination of Spanish conquest and British colonization to the diversity called Belize: Caribbean resistance. At the same time the Spanish were conquering the Tainos of the Caribbean from the North the Kalinago, a people out of Venezuela and Guyana, were conquering the Tainos from the South. The Spanish and the Kalinago confronted each other in Puerto Rico and southern Hispaniola. The Spanish defended the Greater Antilles, called the Kalinago, Caribs, and conceded the Lesser Antilles to them. The Caribbean got its name from the Kalinago. When British and the French entered the Caribbean in the 17th century they fought the Kalinago for territory in the Lesser Antilles. The Kalinago abandoned the flat islands like Barbados, St Kitts and Antigua to the British and concentrated their resistance in hilly islands of Dominica, St Lucia and St Vincent. In the islands to which they retreated, the Kalinago decided to concede neither land nor labour to the British. Through a combination of ship wreck, runaway slaves from neighbouring islands, Africans joined ranks of the Kalinago, and grew into being a large segment called the Black Caribs/Garifuna. By the first Carib War in St Vincent in 1772, the Garifuna had assumed leadership of Kalinago resistance. In the treaty that ended that war, the British conceded the best lands in St Vincent to the Kalinago. However, violations of the treaty led to the second Caribbean War which ended in 1796. In February 1797, 5080 Kalinago, mainly Garifuna, were deported from St Vincent to island of Roatan off coast of Honduras. From there, some found space and sanctuary in Belize in Stann Creek and Toledo beginning in the early 1800s.

Mennonite Belizeans present yet another strain of Europeans settling in Belize but not for reasons of conquest or colonization. They came for reasons of finding place and space to continue very way of life. Originating in the Nederland, many left for Germany over issues related to taxes being imposed on them. They then moved from Germany to Canada to avoid conscription into the military. As a result of anti-German sentiment in Canada following World War 1, they moved to Mexico. In 1958, dissatisfied with aspects of Mexico’s new social security policy many moved to Belize to continue their self-sufficient farming communities.

While these are the main ethnic groups that constitute Belize, small numbers of East Indians and Chinese indentured workers came to provide labour on sugar plantations in Northern and Southern Belize following the emancipation of slavery in 1838. Through intermarriage and liaisons, they have been infused within the groups in those areas and are no longer distinct ethnic communities. At the turn of the 20th century, Syrians and Lebanese traders also started settled in Belize in small numbers. .

East Indian traders of the 1960s speaking Hindi and Chinese and Taiwanese economic citizens of the 1990s are more recent immigrants with no connections with 19th century indentured workers. It is this amalgam of ethnic diversity that comprised Belize as it has become an independent nation since 1981.

During its time as an independent nation, Belize has existed in the period of American ascendancy as a superpower. It has found itself in the corridor of land migration into the US through Mexico. Not all who have come, especially from Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, have yet reached their US or Mexican destinations. This affected the Toledo district, in particular, and added a new dimension of diversity to Belize:  Spanish speakers of different nationalities with little or no knowledge of English or Creole.

This brief sketch does not even begin to scratch the surface of what it is to be Belizean as known to Belizeans of different origins and ethnicities. However, hopefully it sketches the broad contours of the challenge to create a cohesive and coherent Belizean nation from these different ethnic groups with their divergent histories of origin.

I have little knowledge of how the process worked to Anglicize Belizeans to make them loyal subjects of the British Empire and to learn English. Or, of how the Creole language spread outside of Belize District. Or, how the different Denominations worked among the different segments of the ethnic diversity and how they were received by these different segments. Or, of the rivalries and resentments that have developed or dissipated between different ethnic groups. Or how the teacher-pupil system contributed to produce teachers of who taught students of their own ethnicity. Or, how teachers were employed and deployed by the different Denominations. Or, of shifting alliances that have developed between the different segments.

However, three things appear certain. First, is that the geography of settlement has provided distance which has muted differences and divisions. Second, is that in whatever ways the society is divided by day it has been more integrated in bed at night. The evidence of this is immediately obvious to anyone who has travelled across Belize. Anyone imposing a racial prism on Belize will soon become confused in genetic diffraction. Third, is the Christian church, divided by denominations, has been glue that has helped to hold the Belize society together, especially through work in education.

As more and more teachers pursue Bachelors and Masters Degrees, and undertake projects and theses, I hope that these will include studies will add to the scholarship that probes the experiences of the different segments of Belizean diversity in terms of the multiplicities of collective memories, meanings, mindsets and motivations; ritual and routines; hurts and hurdles; disappointments and distrusts; fears and anxieties; hopes and aspirations, and dreams and visions.

Raising the Bar of Understanding One’s Self as a Teacher within the Belizean Nation

Almost every teacher in the Belizean education system comes from one or another segment of Belizean ethnic diversity. This shapes some aspects of their self-concept where the latter is defined as the person as known to the person. The teaching occupation is invariably a rung on the ladder of upward social mobility especially among those from disadvantaged groups irrespective of their ethnicity. Social class creates ranks among people within ethnic groups but also creates links between people of different ethnic groups of the same rank. At the same time, almost every teacher within the Belizean education system is a Belizean citizen and national.

Belizean nationality is the constitutional and legal solvent that is supposed to dissolve the solutes of ethnicity, social class, generation and gender. But generally, and I am sure Belize is no exception; ethnicity, social class, and gender have proven to be very difficult solutes to be dissolved. This is because ethnicity, social class, and gender are part of the axes of inequality and advantage in any society and nation. Teachers, by virtue of their vocation and occupation, are possessed of a dual character. They are solutes while at the same time being charged as critical catalysts in dissolving these solutes to form the Belizean nation over succeeding generations.

Allow me to exaggerate and polarize the matter to make the point. Teachers who teach the next generation only for the benefit of their ethnic group, their social class, and their gender perpetuates existing inequality, the status quo, and the past. Teachers, who teach to bridge ethnic divisions, work for the upward mobility of all students regardless of class and gender, catalyze the building of the Belize nation.

The scope of the Address does not allow me to drill down deeper in application to the Belizean nation. I hope, however, that sufficient has been said to indicate that teachers need to locate themselves within the ethnic and social milieu and deepen their understanding of what it is to be a teacher as they teach students of their own or other ethnic groups.

Raising the bar of understanding of the mission of teachers to build Belize

It is my view that there are four critical and strategic factors that are critical to Belize’s future. These are:

  1. Democratic governance;
  2. Embracing the technological revolution;
  3. Youth as the future; and
  4. Finding within the courage to make the moral choices required in constructing society.

Last week it was my honour to deliver the 50th Anniversary Lecture of the Jamaica Teachers Association. I drew attention to these four issues within the Jamaican context. I am doing the same here because the four factors are central to the continued mission of teachers to contribute to the building of the Belizean nation and Caribbean people.

Democratic Governance

Democratic governance is a great strength of Belize. However, there is danger in becoming sanguine and satisfied with past and present achievements. This is for two principals reasons.

First, at the core of democracy, there is a fundamental contradiction. Simply put, while the people are sovereign, they cannot rule directly. They must elect representatives to Parliament which then exercises the sovereign powers of the people. There is no higher body in a democracy than Parliament. However, acting within constitutions, it is Parliaments that establish electoral laws, provide the resources and create the machinery for the conduct of elections. Incumbents in Parliament, therefore, can legally and constitutionally enact laws, provide resources and direct the election machinery so as to seek to ensure their re-election. In other words, elected representatives of the people can usurp the sovereign power of the people, thus becoming unaccountable to the people.

The danger of self-satisfaction with democratic governance can best be illustrated with respect to the United States, which has historically been a leader and champion of democracy in the world. Gerrymandering of Congressional districts is widely practiced in many States by both the Democratic and Republicans Parties, with the Republicans currently holding the advantage. However, gerrymandering is legal in the United States because the US Constitution stipulates that Congressional district boundaries are determined by the Senate and House of Representatives of each State based on the results of the Census taken every ten years. Accordingly, the party in power in each State, at the time of the Census, gets to draw congressional district boundaries for their State and can do so to the advantage of their party.

Likewise, the Senate, House, and Governor of each State set electoral laws for the State. Further, Governor and the Secretary of State of each State, who are partisans, determine the resources given to conduct elections, determine where those resources should be deployed and set the rules by which electoral officials determine such matters as the Voters List. Hence, election officials presiding over elections according to law, and citizens voting in compliance with election laws can do so in a rigged system with built-in advantages for incumbents in Congress.

Voter fraud is infinitesimal in the US. The American people have a great record of participating in the electoral process accordingly to law. Yet using voter fraud as justification, Republicans in some States are imposing restrictions on voting designed to affect electors who traditionally vote for the Democratic Party. In some States, Republicans are skewing the provision of resources to conduct elections to favour candidates of their party. Some Republican Governors and Secretaries of States have tampered with Voters Lists by mandating electoral officials to purge Voters List close to elections. Here is the fact. It is all legal and constitutional. This is because of the contradiction at the core of democracy.

If this can happen in the United States, then the people of all democratic countries should understand that democracy requires continuing vigilance across generations. Teachers have an obligation to teach democratic governance in schools.

The Technological Revolution

Two MIT researchers, Erik Brynjofsson and Andrew McAfee, published a book earlier this year titled ‘The Second Machine Age.’ They argued that the world is at the inflection point of a revolution in technology comparable to the Industrial Revolution, the first machine age. There are three bases of their assertion. The first is that for the same price, the power and speed of microchip is following Moore’s Law, that is, they are doubling every two years. The result of this exponential growth is that computer-related devices are becoming faster, smaller, lighter, more powerful, cheaper and therefore more affordable. The second is that everything is becoming digitized thus becoming able to be interconnected. The volume, velocity and variety of interconnections are exploding: for example, cameras, phones, computers, printers, sensors, GPS devices, tablets, and televisions can all be interconnected. Moreover, almost everybody on the planet can be part of a digital network. One feature of digital information is that it is non-rival, it is not used up when it is used. Hence, digital information is costly to produce but very cheap to reproduce. The third is that digital information can be recombined. Each innovation is the building block for further innovations. Therefore, the innovative possibilities are endless, restricted only by the imagination of those engage with any particular issue.

Among the first outputs of the second machine age computers that can beat the world champion grandmaster of chess, driverless cars, remotely controlled drones that can drop bombs, robots that can go around and inside buildings and allow remote viewing and hearing of all that is going on, and computers that can think, that is, real artificial intelligence. Brynjolfsson and McAfee make the point that while computers have been built to defeat the best chess players in the world, a moderate chess player working with a mid-range computer can easily defeat computers built to beat the best chess players in the world. In other words, moderately knowledgeable humans working with computers of reasonable power can be superior to the best artificial intelligence that there is. The current challenge for teachers, therefore, is to embrace the exponentially increasing power and affordability of the microchip, to use the expanding connectivity of digital to engage in innovations to enhance learning, improve communication with all stakeholders and advanced management.

I wish to draw to your attention to the online capability. Applied to education, online is usually referred to as distance education. Calling online courses distance education is giving an old name to a new phenomenon. On-line is really the opposite of distance education. It brings distant students near. It allows students in remote locations to study at the college or university.

On-line in Belize has great potential to bring teachers and students living in distant and discrete communities spread across the country near to each other. The smart-phone, the tablet, the I-Pad with G-3 or G-4 connection can bring teachers and students near to each other as never before. As the infrastructure of connectivity expands across the country, as the cost of these devices become more affordable and more powerful, and their interconnectivity more pervasive, only the imagination restricts their application to the ways in which Belizeans can be brought nearer to each other, especially teachers and students.

Youth as the Future

Teachers work with young people. There is no more intractable and important problem facing our countries than issues to deal with young people. Youth represents the future of any and all societies. Generally speaking, young people in the Western World are in trouble and mostly not all of their own makings. They are coming to maturity in times of great economic disparity, fundamental changes in technology and profound changes in the structure of human society as it shifts from its patriarchal origins. Youth in countries such as China, India, Korea, and Brazil face similar challenges but do so in the context of an upward economic trajectory, occasioning hope. Belize and the rest of the Caribbean have been part of the West for the last 500 years. Hence, the issues related to youth are similar to several other countries of the West. The problem among our youth is not poverty, but hopelessness.

Like all major issues, those related to youth are not uniformly distributed. They affect more males than females, more from the lower than the middle and upper socioeconomic groups, more of those living in remote rural areas and urban inner cities than those in suburbs of cities and towns and more of some ethnic groups than others. Succinctly, the issues related to the young generation are connected with gender, class, ethnicity, and region, the other main axes of inequality and inequity in the human social organisation that is, in matters related to social justice.

Social inequality and injustice do not absolve adult or youth of individual responsibility for their choices and actions. Poverty or deferral of dreams or failed promises or frustration of aspirations is not a moral justification for murder or destructive behaviour, of self or others. Yet increasing and brutal crimes committed by disadvantaged youth are often blamed on social conditions. In my view, social inequality, injustice, oppression and destructive responses of youth have their roots in a breakdown of the moral condition.

I have not been in a position to do any detailed or comprehensive research on youth in Belize. However, a cursory analysis of data leads me to make two observations. First, is that the school age and younger population in Belize are still growing. This is a positive phenomenon. Countries that will have more young people around in the future are likely to do better than those with declining numbers of youth compared to older people. However, the concomitant challenge is to pay greater attention and provide greater care to young people now.

Second, is that the gender patterns are not uniform across Belize. On average, it is important to note that Belize has more male teachers teaching at the primary level (28 percent) and secondary level (44.6 percent) than most other countries of the Commonwealth Caribbean. Likewise, at the secondary level, boys are 48.1 percent and girls are 51.9 percent of enrolment. This is much greater gender parity compared to the rest of the Commonwealth Caribbean. Even at the college and university levels, the disparities are less than across the region: 40:60 at the college level and 36:64 at the University level respectively. However, what these averages mask are differences between different regions and different ethnicities within the country. Put bluntly, the hypothesis worth testing is that male marginalization is more marked among the Creole and Garifuna segments while female marginalization is most marked among Mayan and Mennonite segments with Mestizos patterns falling in between. If this hypothesis proves to be correct, the implication would be that a one size approach to gender equity, and related matters, is not appropriate in Belize.

Finding It within Ourselves to Make the Moral Choices

Data from all the recent Surveys of Living Conditions, poverty assessment surveys, done over the last five years in the Commonwealth Caribbean, reveal a common pattern. The education gap is narrowing between the richest and the poorest quintiles in terms of literacy, years of primary schooling, years of secondary education and credentials earned in secondary examinations while, at the same time, the income disparity is widening. It is only at the tertiary level of education that the richest quintile continues to hold significant advantages compared to the poorest quintile.  In other words, populations, especially among youths, are becoming more equalized in terms of basic education, while incomes are becoming more unequal. Within the Commonwealth Caribbean, this can be partially explained by the fact that Governments have had much greater control over education policy than economic policy, the latter being subject to the twin factors of external influences and internal advantages held by some segments within countries.

‘Winner takes all,’ as a modus operandi is spreading in the world. At the corporate level, it is manifested by those in control and running things for their benefit without any regard for the common good of the rest of society. This is what brought about the crash of the big Wall Street Banks causing the major financial crisis of 2008 in the US and in Western Europe and from which we have all suffered. At the individual level, it is manifested in the phrase ‘what is in it for me.’ ‘Winner takes all’ breeds selfishness, greed, self-aggrandizement, delusions of grandeur, notions of superiority, ingratitude, contempt, arrogance and even idolatry among the so-called ‘winners’ who invariably come to believe in their right to dominate, to rule, to even be beyond question or the law. All ‘winner takes all’ systems involve exploitation, most inflict oppression, all leave in their wake misery, frustration, despair, disillusionment, and depression among the vast majority, the so-called ‘losers’, and all engender resentment and resistance, even if this is muted. Among the so-called ‘losers’ ‘winner takes all’ engenders fatalism, self-doubt, a paucity of spirit, a lack of will to strive, division, destructive behaviour, and resignation to the status quo which traps them to the mindset that this is the way things are and will ever continue to be and to crime and rebellion by some.

There is no immunity for governments, schools, unions, churches, community organisations from becoming ‘winner takes all’ entities. Indeed, it becomes relatively easy in an ethos where ‘winner takes all’ is spreading. It only takes one set of incumbents to set the precedent of running the school or the union or the church or the company for their own benefit and for subsequent incumbents to follow the precedent. But this is not inevitable if some find it in themselves to reject ‘winner takes all.’

The point is that noble choices made by previous generations can be overturned by the choices of succeeding generations. There is nothing automatic in either conserving progress made toward achieving the common good or continuing or reverting to ‘winner takes all’ systems that only benefit a few to the disadvantage of many. If progress toward the common good is to be sustained over time, then the first challenge is to exercise fidelity and be faithful to those choices made by those who went before and in whose footsteps we tread. The second is to expand the areas of progress by confronting and replacing legacy and new ‘winner takes all’ systems that will constrain the continued construction of civilised society.

 CONCLUSION

God grant Belizean teachers the desire to raise the bar of understanding of what it means to be Belizean by all segments of the society and thereby increase their capacity for empathy with all of their students. God grant Belizean teachers the desire to raise the bar in seeking to understand themselves within the complexity, diversity, and intersections of social structure and thereby increase their consciousness of the implications of their actions. God grant Belizean teachers the love, grace, and courage to make the moral choices that serves the best interests of all of their students.